Last Saturday, Iraq vet John White, 33, of Rochester, N.Y., landed what is probably the largest swordfish ever caught on conventional, non-electric tackle. The beast weighed in at 455 pounds. White and his wife, Pamela Marie, were fishing out of Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada with Capt. Nick Stanczyk, one of the most pedigreed young captains in the Keys.
A few years ago, fishing legends Capt. Richard and Scott Stanczyk, and Richard's son, Nick, pioneered what's known as "day-time swordfishing." At night, swordfish rise from the bottom pursuing squid and other species that emit light signals to attract prey to eat themselves. During the day, swordfish tend to lie on the bottom at depths greater than 1000 feet.
Catching them at such depths is a major feat of tackle engineering and boatmanship, requiring upward of 12 pounds of weight or more and thousands of yards of thin, durable braided line to get baits to depth. Once you hook a sword at such depth, it becomes an athletic contest of epic proportions.
The biggest swords are caught during the day. And, once hooked up, you have to reel as fast as you can since the fish often rise straight to the surface and vault through the air. After you wind in several thousand yards of slack, the fish tend to sound on you, testing the mettle of your arm, back and leg muscles, and the depth of your mental and physical endurance.
"I was thinking how tired I was after three hours," said White. "I wanted to give up, but my wife kept pushing me to go on."
The former Navy helicopter pilot hooked the fish about 30 miles south of Islamorada, in about 1,600 feet.
While fighting in Iraq, White read and dreamed about daytime swordfishing. That dream led the White's to a vacation in the Keys.
"We figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go swordfishing," said White, who has been married for a year. "We didn't think we'd ever have the chance afterward with (plans to have) kids and everything."
Their catch will be long remembered in the annals of Keys fishing.